Churchill's Christmas present: a story of wartime friendship at Chartwell

Churchill's silver cigar case on display at Chartwell, a National Trust property in Kent

A Christmas present from King Peter II of Yugoslavia to Winston Churchill in the winter of 1942, this silver cigar box is very telling of the political situation in Europe at the time.

Few reigns in history have fallen shorter than that of King Peter II of Yugoslavia, who ruled the county for just one month. At only 17 he was declared of age and succeeded his uncle to the throne in March 1941. The German invasion was swift though and by April King Peter had fled the country and escaped to England.

King Peter and his wife, Queen Alexandra, would call Claridges, one of London’s most fashionable hotels, home for some years to come. Whilst in England the exiled King tried to garner allied support to free Yugoslavia from German occupation, a cause that Churchill was unsurprisingly sympathetic towards. ‘He has a lot of good in him’ Churchill wrote to Richard Casey, Minister of State, Middle East.

" Yugoslavia has found its soul"
- Sir Winston Churchill on King Peter II taking the throne

Over Christmas 1942 King Peter II gave Churchill this silver cigar box in recognition of the aid and good will he had received since reaching England. The lid is engraved with a map of London’s West End, a picture of the Houses of Parliaments and the words ‘The Heart of the Empire’. An inscription on the inside reads ‘To Mr Churchill, the steadfast friend of my people, I wish you a happy Christmas and a successful New Year’.

In response to the gift, Churchill thanked Peter for his ‘kindness in sending me the beautiful token and for the message inscribed inside it. Please accept my best wishes for a happy future for yourself and your country.’

The strength of these feelings of goodwill is shown in the famous story surrounding the birth of King Peter II’s son Alexander. Born on the 17 July 1945 in suite 212 of Claridges, sources claim that Winston Churchill declared the hotel room to be Yugoslavian territory for one day. Thus the new born Prince Alexander was born on Yugoslavian soil and could potentially one day inherit the throne.

Unfortunately there is no documentary evidence to support this story of impulsive generosity from Churchill, though Crown Prince Alexander did receive both a Yugoslavian birth certificate and passport. So is the story true? We’ll leave that up to you decide.

A signed photo of King Peter II gifted to Churchill
Signed photo of King Peter II at Chartwell, a National Trust property in Kent
A signed photo of King Peter II gifted to Churchill